Succession and Splinter Groups

Joseph Smith's death created a battle for succession, resulting in the breakup of the church.

Reference Links

Mormon Denominations Breakdown
Joseph Smith's Boasting

Video Transcript

The death of Joseph Smith created a fierce competition to take his place. Four leading candidates emerged, Sidney Rigdon, William Marks, Samuel Smith, and Brigham Young.

Sidney Rigdon claimed that he had received a revelation that he was supposed to take over, but he was not liked by the apostles. William Marks, whom Emma Smith supported, was maneuvered out of the running because he was against polygamy. And Samuel Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother, was mysteriously murdered.

This left Brigham Young, who was appointed head of the apostles, and later restructured the church, making himself president. But not everyone was happy with this arrangement, and the church broke into several factions.

And this wasn’t the first time that movements broke away from the mainline LDS church. As early as 1831, several groups had split with Joseph Smith, usually as a result of a decision or teaching that was considered unacceptable. None of those groups still remain, but the so-called Prairie Saints, who rejected the authority of Brigham Young, still exist today.

Sidney Rigdon started what became the Church of Jesus Christ. This church rejects many of the revelations of Joseph Smith, including plural marriage.

James Strang claimed to have been visited by angels who made him Smith’s successor. He also claimed to have translated another ancient record found in the Hill of Promise, called the Voree plates, reminiscent of Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates. He was able to convince many prominent Mormons to follow him, including Apostle William Smith, Joseph’s brother, and Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the golden plates.

Granville Hedrick united several Mormon communities that were left without leadership after Joseph Smith’s death. They eventually moved back to Missouri and purchased the temple lot, the site designated by Joseph Smith for the temple of the New Jerusalem in his original Zion.

But the largest group that rejected Brigham Young is the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This group was led by Joseph Smith III, and owns the original temple in Kirtland, and a newer temple in Independence Missouri. But, unlike the LDS, this church does not practice temple ceremonies. In fact, they reject so many of the doctrines unique to Mormonism, that they almost resemble a Christian denomination.

This is only a sampling of the more than one hundred factions of Mormonism, including the polygamous fundamentalist Mormons, liberal Mormons, and new restoration Mormons. Many of these groups, including the mainline LDS, claim to hold the authority and priesthood of the one true restored church. But whereas Christianity uses the written word of God as the objective authority, Mormons must rely on the subjective claims of each prophet.

The presence of so many splinter groups would have been important to Joseph Smith, who boasted that he had done a work that not even Jesus Christ was capable of by keeping his church united. There’s more at